Rent or Buy?

There’ve been plenty of blogs written about whether it is better to rent your residence or buy it. In the course of all of these blogs, there’ve also been plenty of misconceptions that have arisen. Now I’m renting my third apartment right now, and I’ve never owned. So right away I guess that disqualifies me from commenting, right? Think again.

Now as I’ve said there’ve been plenty of misconceptions. I’m not going to weigh in on the total "is it better to rent or buy" question, as the actual answer will depend on your circumstances. So instead I’m going to tackle individual arguments, Glenn Beck style, starting with this one:

Renters are just throwing away their money

And so are buyers if there is a mortgage involved. How so? Interest on the loan, taxes on the purchase, other expenses related to the purchase, fees on the loan, private mortgage insurance, closing costs, and so on.

Plus until you pay off that mortgage, you risk foreclosure. And even after owning it, you risk another foreclosable lien against the house if you fail to pay property taxes. So until you pay off the mortgage, you don’t truly own the house — you just own debt. And even after paying off the house, you still have property taxes to worry about — they just become a little easier to pay because you have money freed up from the paid-off loan.

And the minimum down payment that lenders typically require to avoid paying for mortgage insurance is 20%. If you don’t put down that kind of money on a home for the mortgage, you’re throwing away even more money. With mortgage insurance, you never see a dime of that money, and that money is paid to the lender in case of a foreclosure where the house is sold short.

Home owners are at least building equity

First let’s define equity in a home. Equity is the value of the home minus the liabilities against it. Until about 2005, home values and home prices stayed fairly well locked with inflation, not deviating much from it. This means a home that cost $100,000 in 1990 you could expect to cost about $115,000 in 1995, absent any improvements that might elevate its value.

Now even if you make improvements to the home, the value of those improvements won’t count as equity until any liabilities acquired to make those improvements are paid off. This means if you borrowed against the home or took out unsecured debt (such as with a credit card) to improve your home, you haven’t improved your equity situation at all, and possibly only made it worse. If you borrowed against your home to pay off other debts, you haven’t done yourself any favors.

So if you want to increase the equity in your home by making improvements, save up the cash first. Otherwise you’re only adding to your liabilities without actually adding to your equity. And avoid borrowing against your home unless you feel there is little other option.

But going on the mortgage, here are some surprising numbers for you, going on a 30-year mortgage with a 5% interest rate:

  • After 1 year, you will have not even paid off 1.5% of the balance
  • It will take 10 years to pay off only 20% of the balance.
  • It will take 20 years to pay off 50% of the balance.

My, what big equity you’re building there — 20 years until you have 50% equity in the home. And this isn’t counting any other liabilities you might have against the home or any improvements you’ve made to it, only the initial mortgage. You might be building equity, albeit very slowly, but what you’re left with at the end, adjusted for inflation, is likely not much more valuable compared to where you started.

And when you factor in the taxes you’ve paid on the home purchase itself, along with any fees on the mortgage, plus the interest, it’s difficult to see where you come out ahead. And if you fall behind on the mortgage to the point where the mortgage is foreclosed, you lose any and all equity you had in the home in one instant. If you fail to pay the property taxes, you risk having the house seized by the government, meaning you’d again lose any and all equity in an instant.

Renters have free utilities and avoid property taxes

Not quite. First the property taxes on the home or apartment you are renting are already factored into your rent. There may be other taxes as well factored into your rent depending on where you live. Some apartment complexes also incorporate water, sewage, and trash into your rent as well at a flat rate. In these instances you may find your rent goes up because of an increase in price of water and sewage or increased usage across the complex.

I should point out that the complexes including water into the cost of rent are few and far between. Why is this so? It’s unfair to penalize water-conserving tenants for the usages of tenants who are quite liberal on their usage of the water. However most apartment tenants pay their landlord for the water bill, but the bill is still assessed on a per-residence instead of full-complex basis.

Rarely will you also find a complex that will also factor in electricity and heating as those are quite dependent not only and largely on the tenants, but the apartment as well, as where the apartment is located in the complex and in each building may determine its power usage for heating and cooling. Some complexes may provide an option for cable service at a discounted rate to also be a part of your rent, but most complexes will not include entertainment services, preferring to leave the choice of the level of service, the option of cable or satellite, or whether to have television service at all up to tenants. The same with Internet connectivity service.

Back to property taxes, though. As I said, the taxes are averaged out among all tenants and factored into the monthly rent. The benefit of renting, however, in these instances is the fact that you are paying a known quantity each month. You don’t have to worry about a bill from the county or State saying you have a certain amount due by a certain date — i.e. you avoid sticker shock at least with regard to where you live. Your car, on the other hand, is always a different story.

Renters aren’t stuck with a mortgage

Which is easier to get out from under: a mortgage or lease? If you answered "lease" you’d be correct. Now, both are contracts. With a mortgage you have a contract to pay back a loan. With a lease you have a contract of occupation.

Now you could just walk away from a mortgage and hope the lender doesn’t find you, and you can do the same with a lease as well, but it’s easier to legally get out of a lease without owing anything. Most leases will already have an early-termination agreement as part of its language: if you need to cancel the lease early, you can, but typically with a fee involved along with an advance notice (typically 30 or 60 days).

With a mortgage, you have only one option for getting out of the obligation: sell the house. If the home falls into foreclosure, you only evade the obligation if the home sells at auction for more than you owe.

Mortgagers have tax benefits

Ah the mortgage interest deduction, touted by many a homebuyer as a reason homeowners are better off than renters. This will depend on your loan, but first we need to establish a few things.

First, you can only deduct the interest paid on your mortgage if you itemize. If you don’t itemize, you can’t declare the deduction. This is in contrast with student loan interest deductions which don’t require you to itemize. This means that the benefit of the deduction must be taken in contrast with the standard deduction for your filing status. If your mortgage interest deduction along with other itemized deductions is less than the standard deduction, you’d be stupid to itemize.

This means for married couples filing joint, if the mortgage interest deduction is less than about $11,000, and you don’t have other itemized deductions you can take to bring the itemized to more than the standard deduction, why itemize? This means that for a married couple filing joint, you’d need a mortgage of at least about $200 thousand. For married filing separately or single, you’ll need a mortgage of at least about $100 thousand to make the tax benefits worthwhile.

Plus, if your mortgage is "under water" (you owe more than the fair market value), then your deduction is limited according to IRS publication 936. Further the interest deduction is only worthwhile for the first about five years of the mortgage unless you have other itemized deductions you can take or a very expensive house. If it’s the latter, you are likely in the highest tax brackets, meaning your ability to take itemized deductions is further limited plus you may become subject to the alternative minimum tax.

* * * * *

I think that’s good for now as I feel I’ve addressed the more common arguments made. Now is it better to rent or buy? Well this depends on multiple things, first and foremost is your financial situation. If you don’t have the greatest credit, then renting is pretty much your only option anyway. But otherwise which will be better for you really depends on whether you hope or plan to stay in one area for at least the duration of the mortgage. If you cannot see that far into the future, rent.

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Source of liberty

On YouTube there is a user by the name “TheAtheistAntidote” — which right away should tell you the level of idiocy to which this guy can ascend. Recently he made a video with the title “Atheism void of Liberty (No God = No Liberty)”. That’s right, he is actually attempting to make the claim that without a supernatural “big brother”, you don’t have any liberty whatsoever:

Before rebutting key points in his video, I need to point out one observation from this video. He is basically setting up one giant false dichotic argument here. A false dichotomy, for those unaware of the definition, is when you try to argue on the basis that there are only two, mutually exclusive points of view, and only one can be right. Here, TheAtheistAntidote establishes the false dichotic view of either God or government, God or the state.

As a libertarian atheist… how anyone can assert that false dichotomy is beyond me. But let’s get down to the actual points he was trying to make.

Many will be quick to cite the Islamic world as a society that exemplifies the antithesis of freedom, however, Allah is not regarded as a source of liberty, but an object of submission. Islam itself means submission.

Right away he is making an historical fallacy here. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all regarded as Abrahamic religions, meaning all three are interpretations and reinterpretations of the same God and his will over man. Thus if you are going to try to assert your God as the source of liberty, Allah (the Arabic word for God, by the way) is also a source of liberty. Islam is an interpretation of the will of God, which differs in key ways from Christianity.

Since the dawn of the American experiment, and in fact predating our very colonies, personal liberty and personal freedom have been inextricably linked to the creator God.

Actually before the American experiment, few knew what real liberty actually felt like. Most everyone in the world knew only tyranny to some degree, as they were all subjects to a crown, emperor, dictator, or the like. And they all asserted their power came from a god, otherwise how would they have gotten into power. It must’ve been God’s will that their bloodline rules, right? Google “divine right” for an historical lesson on that concept.

It wasn’t until the rise of the American colonies against the Crown of Great Britain that we started to assert that the Crown does not have any legitimate power not granted to it by the people. With regard to the governments of the various colonies, the assertion was that only the people can grant power to a government. Any such power usurped from the people against the will of the people or by deceiving the people is not legitimate power.

Further any power exercised to oppress the people, or any denomination of the people therein, is not a legitimate exercise of power and is, by its very definition, tyranny.

We are a nation founded on the very premise that God Almighty is the only true source for such liberty, a declaration of unmovable truth inscribed on our very Liberty Bell.

While he is saying this, “Lev 25” flashes on the screen, meaning Leviticus 25, the book of the Old Testament that lays out various Mosaic laws. It’s rather intriguing how Christians will routinely state that the old Mosaic laws no longer apply, yet they have no issue in quoting them to assert their points.

He makes reference to the Liberty Bell. On the bell is inscribed:

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof

Lev. XXV. v X.

By Order of the ASSEMBLY of the Province of PENSYLVANIA for the State House in Philad

Pass and Stow

Philad

MDCCLIII

“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”. With this reference inscribed on the bell, it is not saying or asserting that God Almighty is the “true source for such liberty”. Merely it is making a statement that the bell is to proclaim liberty throughout the colonies.

If the state be your only bestower of rights, as the secular extremists among you are forced to insist, then said state can take them away, and history proves that take them away they will.

Actually I think you’ll be hard pressed to find secularists who will assert that the State is the bestower of rights. I’m a secularist, and I have never said that our rights were granted by men or a government. Every time a government has trampled upon the rights of the people, that government has assumed its power illegitimately and has asserted its power through tyranny. The secularization of society may have made it easier to usurp that power, but the power was nonetheless illegitimately usurped from a complacent people.

Reason, human instinct, and all that we know of man prove that the bigger the significance of the state, the lesser the significance of individual liberty. Our founders knew, therefore, that the opposite must be the basis of our American values.

This is one of the few correct statements he makes throughout this video. It’s only a crying shame he’s making it in a video where he’s asserting the true source of individual liberty is with a government that transcends all governments, that being the divine governance of God, assuming you believe in that.

The more important God is in the eyes of free individuals, the less significant the state, and the greater the individual. This is the bedrock of our country.

This is the false dichotomy I alluded to earlier. There is no divine balance scale with God on one side and the State on the other, where the lesser significance of God means greater significance of the State and vice versa. If you want proof of this false dichotomy, all you have to do is talk to Christian and secular anarchists as well as Christian theocrats about their views of God, government, and personal liberty.

It is not a coincidence that as we move away from our God-centered roots, we see more laws governing the conduct of free men. Limitations of speech, property ownership and the fruits of labor spring up like weeds in a garden that once grew lush with God-granted liberty.

He must be ignoring many of the laws that were enacted based on Biblical and Christian principles. These would include laws against consensual sexual actions, including limiting what sexual positions you could use let alone whether you could engage in consensual anal or oral sex or group sex, laws against prostitution, drugs and alcohol purchase and consumption, laws restricting the personal liberties of homosexuals, laws enacted to target homosexuals, and so on.

Those are laws that restrict personal liberty, enacted in the name of Biblical principles and Christian “values”. Do you not see those as laws “governing the conduct of free men”?

Yes we do see the other limitations mentioned, and we are fighting back against the government to see those liberties restored. Going to church and praying it be so won’t make it happen. You must act to make it so.

Our children once whispered before each school day, “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on thee, and beg the blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”

I know, I know avert your children’s eyes from the evil of this generalized acknowledgment of our right-giver, a non-denominational prayer which no child was forced to say, in no way violated our Constitution.

Five citizens filed suit to stop this prayer from being recited in the schools, and the lawsuit was supported by various Jewish organizations, because the prayer was deemed to be contrary to certain religious beliefs. The case in question is Engel v. Vitale, 370 US 421 (1961).

Plus the prayer was a prayer undoubtedly created by Christians, prescribed by law over all children, not just Christian children. How is that not a violation of the Constitution?

Public schools are an arm of the government. Anything required by or in a public school is as if the government itself is requiring it. By requiring children in a public school to recite a prayer, the government might as well require everyone open their day by attending church. If you don’t see that as a violation of the Constitution, you are seriously messed up.

You and your children are profoundly less free than your father or grandfather.

Nothing could be further from the truth. All one has to do is study the history of the United States since the Civil War to see how wrong this statement is. This is especially true of the minority races and cultures in the United States.

Let’s go over a few of the ways that people were “freer” in earlier generations: mandatory, government prescribed, segregation in most areas of life including public schools, private businesses, other public services, and even cemeteries; anti-miscegeny laws; inter-racial sex laws; laws and policies specifically targeting homosexuals and minorities. Need I go on?

To say the people today are “less free”, let alone to say “profoundly less free”, than earlier generations should earn the speaker a slap across the face with the thickest history book available. Plus with the advent and technological advances of the Internet, free speech has never been more open, its exercise easier, and the voices of other people in society has never been more accessible.

“If it is not God who grants you your only personal liberty, who in fact does ensure certain unalienable rights?” I ask. “On whose authority outside of man do you lay claim to this personal liberty and freedom that we love and have died for?”

Who, other than Christians, say that God grants you personal liberty? Aside from that, you later assert that if the state grants liberty, the state can later take it away. If God grants liberty, what is there to stop him from taking it away? And who are you to say he will not do that?

At least the government we can stop from taking our liberties away. Who is there to stop God from doing such a thing if he so desires?

I don’t clam to own the liberty I have either. To borrow the words of British comedian Pat Condell, I don’t own this freedom as I know it was handed to me on a platter by those who did earn it with their lives. I am little more than a steward of this freedom, which is why I speak out against the government in whatever way I can to preserve this liberty and freedom for future generations.

Government, if not restrained by fear of God alone, is little more than a sword wielded by the powerful over the weak.

Again with the false dichotomy. I hate to say this, but God cannot restrain the government. Only the people can do that. Will you help keep the government restrained, or will you instead call for further restrictions on the freedom and liberty of individuals in line with your religious beliefs?

* * * * *

Throughout the video, the presenter constantly refers to our rights, freedom and liberty as being “God-given” or “God-granted”, yet he also says that government is not the grantor of rights. These assertions are self-contradictory.

If you believe in God, you believe in a government, a supernatural government whose will, authority, and tyranny you have no choice but to accept and to which you are eternally subject without any hope or possibility of escape. This government is even more tyrannical than the governments of men, as the governor God can find you guilty for crimes of thought, thoughts you may not even realize you had.

And on this trial of guilt there is no jury, no witnesses to cross-examine, no counsel to assist, and no appeal. Any finding of guilt is final, and any sentence eternal.

The idea that without God you have no liberty, or without God you have no rights can be seen as the fallacy it is when taken in this light.

If government does not grant rights, then God does not grant rights. From where then, do our rights originate? Ourselves.

However if government is to be the protector of rights, the protector of liberty, then God, if He exists, is not a grantor of rights and liberty, but the ultimate protector of rights and liberty. For if we have rights because we exist, even God cannot trample upon them, and any laws handed down by God that trample upon our rights as men are also illegitimate on their face.

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Revisiting legislation of the 111th Congress

As we approach the close of the 111th Congress and reflect on major legislative actions such as the health care reform bill, I think we should also reflect on legislation that was certainly key legislation that, arguably thankfully, never made it to Obama’s desk. There is likely plenty to go through, but for now I’ll start with two bills in particular.

Puerto Rican statehood (HR 2499)

Back in April 2010, word started to spread about a vote on legislation that would propose the question of statehood to Puerto Rican residents. When the question has been asked of whether Puerto Rico should become a full State under the United States, Puerto Rico has consistently said No.

Under the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010, HR 2499, a two-part question would be posed to Puerto Rican citizens:

  1. Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status, or
  2. Puerto Rico should have a different political status

Seems pretty benign at first, but those who wrote the bill know that Puerto Ricans don’t like their current political status, so the question was formulated in such a way as to elicit a majority response to the latter option, which then asked voters to consider and select one of four options for a new political status:

  1. Independence: Puerto Rico should become fully independent from the United States
  2. Sovereignty in Association with the United States: Puerto Rico and the United States should form a political association between sovereign nations that will not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution.
  3. Statehood: Puerto Rico should be admitted as a State of the Union.
  4. Commonwealth: Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status.

Of these four options, the third option was presumed to be most popular among those most likely to select the second option above. By structuring the ballot measure in this fashion, the hope by those backing this initiative is that a plurality would vote to make Puerto Rico a full State.

So what happened to the bill?

The bill was originally introduced May 19, 2009, by Representative Pedro Pierluisi, the representative of Puerto Rico in the United States Congress, though under the Constitution he does not have any voting rights in the House. He is a member of the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico and is affiliated with the Democratic Party.

On April 29, 2010, the bill was considered in the full House for passage. It would pass the House by a vote of 223 to 169, with 37 representatives not voting and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter [D-NY(28)] voting as Present. The last action reported on the bill occurred on May 19, 2010, where the bill was taken up by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In other words, the bill was basically silently killed without even being assigned a Senate bill number.

Should we worry about this bill being introduced in the 112th Congress next year? The possibility is certainly there. However given how much of a ruckus arose over this bill, I don’t think it would go anywhere if the attempt was made. This bill would have resulted in a tremendous fraud perpetrated on the citizens of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Stripping citizenship without a trial (HR 5327, S 3327)

Recall on May 1, 2010, how a Pakistani-born naturalized citizen of the United States named Faisal Shahzad attempted a bombing in Times Square in New York City. He pled guilty to charges and is now serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. In the wake of that attack came attacks on the Miranda warning by Senator John McCain, among others, but also a call by Senator Joseph Lieberman to look at our expatriation laws.

Expatriation consists of two key things: deporting a person from the United States and subsequently stripping them of their citizenship. Under the current law, a citizen of the United States cannot be stripped of their citizenship while they still live in the United States. Further a person cannot be involuntarily stripped of their citizenship unless they have been convicted of one of several enumerated offenses or conditions, defined in 8 USC § 1481(a).

Further, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 (1980), a person cannot be involuntarily stripped of their citizenship unless it can be shown that the crimes or actions were also committed with the intent of relinquishing one’s citizenship.

So basically there is plenty of law and precedent surrounding one simple notion: the government of the United States does not have the power or authority to strip a person of their citizenship unless that person has acted with the express or implied intent of relinquishing one’s citizenship. In other words, you cannot be stripped of your citizenship unless you want that to happen.

Now again, you risk losing your citizenship when you are convicted of various offenses against the United States. However Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) introduced legislation into the Senate that would allow for expatriation for additional offenses against the United States, but with one key difference: no conviction in a District Court of the United States would be required.

I sent an e-mail to Senator Lieberman’s office, but received only a form letter response to my inquiry. I did not pursue it further.

So what of the legislation itself? What happened with it? In short: nothing.

In the Senate, Lieberman introduced the Terrorist Expatriation Act of 2010 as S. 3327 on May 6, 2010. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where no action on the bill has since been taken.

In the House, Congressman Jason Altmire [D-PA(4)] introduced the same bill as HR 5237. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and was subsequently referred to the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law on June 15. No action has been taken since, and I don’t anticipate any action actually occurring between now and January in either the House or Senate on this one.

Will the bill be reintroduced in the 112th Congress? I’m doubtful. With huge pushes by the people for a House and Senate more leaning toward personal liberties, a bill that gives the Department of State the ability to strip a person of their citizenship without the benefit of a criminal trial will likely be seen as an affront to liberty and not tolerated.

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A little silly experiment

On YouTube I have the pleasure of being subscribed to a lovely young woman in Denmark who goes by the moniker TheAnMish — what that means I have no idea, nor is it really important. One thing that’s interesting about her is that she is an “Aspie”, meaning she has Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the lighter end of the autism spectrum.

Tonight on her channel, she posted this video:

Upon hearing this scenario, the first few details, JonBenet Ramsey first came to mind. Watch the video if you haven’t and you’ll understand why. JonBenet Ramsey, for those who do not recall, vanished in the middle of the night Christmas night in 1996 from her home in Boulder, Colorado. She was later discovered in her home, already dead.

Her parents and other family members were immediately implicated. Much of the suspicion rested on JonBenet’s mother, Patsy Ramsey. She passed away from cancer a few years ago. It was a case with which I became familiar, focusing a lot of my free energy and attention, for reasons I’ve yet to determine and likely never will. Now I’m by no means an expert on the case — much of what I learned came through the press.

In the case that AnMish presents, however, there is something quite different occurring. She asks that you take the role of police officer or journalist. I’m taking the role of police officer here, and allow me to apologize now if much of what I’m about to write sounds more like “thinking out loud”. First the details of the case:

We have a relatively affluent couple with two daughters: Leah, age 16, and Lana, age 5. One Wednesday night between the hours of 8pm and 12am, Lana disappears from her room seemingly without a trace. There are no signs of a struggle, and, at least according to her anecdote, nothing to suggest an intruder.

Now she says that Lana’s room is on the “first floor”. In Denmark, this is the floor above the ground floor, so to those of us in the United States, this means that Lana’s bedroom is on the second floor of the house. Leah’s bedroom is adjacent to Lana’s, and the parents were downstairs watching television at the time of the abduction.

Police are called at 6am the next morning, a Thursday morning. The media gets involved right away as well.

Friday night, Leah also disappears, but the circumstances have now changed. Along with Leah being gone, so are several of her belongings, including clothing, along with cash, the father’s handgun, a Bible belonging to the mother along with jewelry. There is a tree outside her window as well, and I will presume there is a branch capable of supporting her weight reachable from the window.

Given Leah has also disappeared, she would be my initial focus. The fact she disappeared with property from the home and clothing suggests she is culpable in some way in her sister’s disappearance. Because of this culpability, I would first try to learn all I could about Leah from the parents — boyfriend, friends, personality and psychology, whatever could help me answer the question of why she ran away. I would obtain names, addresses, and phone numbers as well for friends and other family members living in the area, along with names and addresses of places she liked to frequent.

There is, however, the possibility that the missing property is a diversion and she may have never left the home, along with her sister. A search of the home would be necessary. In the United States, a warrant would very likely be necessary unless the parents willingly consented. Even if the parents legally consented, I would have the paperwork for a search warrant ready in case they got nervous and withdrew consent. There’s the possibility that I could find additional clues and evidence pointing me in the right direction, and there’s the possibility I’d find the two girls, likely not alive.

My hunch, however, rests in Leah running away from home, taking various belongings from the home. The clothing suggests she ran away. The fact it happened so soon after her sister’s disappearance suggests culpability in Lana’s disappearance.

But it may also suggest knowledge. She took a firearm, cash, and jewelry that she is likely going to pawn or fence to get additional cash. Since the family are practicing Catholics, the Bible was likely for “protection” from God. Following this hypothesis, the clothing suggests she believes she’ll need several days to pursue who she believes is responsible. Her bedroom is next to Lana’s so she likely heard or saw something, and if I was the officer responding at 6am that Thursday, Leah would have been likely the first I would have interviewed.

But there’s a third theory.

Recall from season 1 of the show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, there is an episode in which there is a family with a father and mother, two sons and two daughters. The parents and sons are killed, but the daughters are not. It was the episode in which a very young Dakota Fanning guest starred as the youngest daughter. Drawing on the plot of this episode, a third possibility in Lana’s disappearance implicates the father as being directly responsible for reasons I would rather not elaborate other than to say that a horrible situation turned even worse.

Leah’s disappearance on Friday, the night after the police became involved, suggests she thought her life to possibly be in danger, possibly because of a confrontation between the father and Leah Thursday night?

The theft of the gun suggests then she needs to protect herself, the jewelry I still hold was stolen to eventually pawn or fence for cash. The clothing then would suggest she intended to leave permanently and took only what she felt she could carry. A more thorough search of the home would likely reveal that her backpack or a small piece of luggage is also missing. The Bible also could’ve been stolen to pawn or fence — that would depend on the details of the Bible itself.

Well that’s my synopsis. Feel free to send your own hypotheses to AnMish or post them as comments below. Feel free to also pick at my hypotheses if you find any issues or discrepancies.

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Saving a woman’s life

A woman who has progressed about 11 weeks into a pregnancy presents in the emergency room with pulmonary hypertension, a potentially life-threatening condition, the risk of which is only exacerbated by her pregnancy. Attempts are made to address the condition while avoiding harming the pregnancy, but those attempts fail.

Attending physicians determine that if the woman is to survive the condition, her pregnancy must be terminated. After going through the necessary administrative procedures, the doctors terminate the pregnancy.

This anecdote is based on an actual situation that occurred at St John’s Hospital in Phoenix, a Catholic hospital. In response to it, the patient was "automatically excommunicated" according to press reports, and the hospital administrator who signed off on the abortion was rebuked by higher Church officials, along with a new rule being enacted that will, in essence, ensure that no pregnancy is intentionally terminated in a Catholic hospital.

In response to this event, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is trying to put pressure on the United States Department of Health and Human Services to have them pressure the Catholic Church, which owns more than 1 in 8 hospital beds in the United States, to relax this rule to allow for emergency situations such as the case that presented in Phoenix.

Yet if you go to pro-life web sites, what will they say? Likely that the ACLU is trying to "force" Catholic hospitals and Catholic doctors to perform abortions.

Umm… no.

Let me be clear: I am in no way talking about high-risk pregnancies. A pregnancy may be deemed "high risk" based on an assessment of the risk of complications. What I am discussing in this article is a complication that has developed into a life-threatening emergency that has presented at the ER.

Let’s break down the Phoenix case. Now courtesy of Federal and Arizona privacy laws, there is a lot we cannot know, but there is plenty we can presume based simply on the fact that this was a medical event at a Catholic hospital. Courtesy of the privacy laws, the one crucial aspect of the encounter that is locked away is what caused the doctors to determine that the abortion was necessary.

Presumably there is at least one doctor, who we can only presume is Catholic and anti-abortion, at a Catholic hospital, who determined that terminating the pregnancy was necessary to save the patient. Likely this decision was reviewed by at least one other physician, possibly more. After all, we’re talking about an abortion at a Catholic hospital — they’d want to make sure they were doing the right thing. But one thing is apparent from the scenario: No one was coerced into it, except maybe the patient as her options were either terminate the pregnancy or die carrying it.

The "forcing doctors" line is one of the latest tactics out of the pro-life movement, most recently enacted with a fervor after the Obama administration started talking about scaling back the "provider refusal rule". Remember the pro-life backlash on that one? "They want to force doctors to perform abortions".

Let me make this clear (don’t make me turn up the font): No one is trying to force doctors to perform abortions. No one is trying to force doctors to do anything. The pursuit of the ACLU is in nothing more than ensuring a uniform standard of care across all hospitals that receive public money, including Catholic hospitals.

What this would mean is this: if a pregnant woman presents in an emergency room at any hospital with an emergency condition for which the attending physicians determine that terminating the pregnancy is necessary to save the woman’s life, that hospital will do what it has deemed necessary without fear of punishment or reprisal against the physicians and/or nurses and hospital administrators.

Will this result in doctors and hospitals being "forced" to perform abortions? Not by the government. If a hospital is forced to accommodate an abortion, it will be because the attending physicians and any reviewing physicians determine it to be necessary to save a woman’s life.

Let us not overlook the tragedy here. A woman had little choice but to terminate her pregnancy if she wanted to continue living. The response of the Catholic Church to this woman and the hospital where the abortion occurred is reprehensible at best.

But while there was tragedy, we cannot forget that a woman is alive today because of the extremely difficult decision of her attending physicians. Yet the response by the Catholic Church provides the impression that they would have preferred she died just to preserve a principle of "no abortions performed here".

That, however, would have been a greater tragedy because it would not have been just the woman who died, but the child she was carrying. Let us not overlook or forget that.

Resources

Santorum, Rick. (2010, October 10). "ACLU Wrong to Attempt to Force Catholic Hospitals to Do Some Abortions". LifeNews.com.

Ertelt, Steven. (2010, July 8). "ACLU Claims Catholic Hospitals Refusing Life-Saving Abortions for Women". LifeNews.com.

American Civil Liberties Union. (2010, July 1). "ACLU Asks Government To Ensure That Religiously-Affiliated Hospitals Provide Emergency Reproductive Health Services". [Press Release]

Clancy, Michael. (2010, May 19). "Nun at St. Joseph’s Hospital rebuked over abortion to save woman". The Arizona Republic.

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Wolf

“Throughout the centuries we have projected on to the wolf the qualities we most despise and fear in ourselves.”

— Barry Lopez

Gray wolf howling

Wolves are magnificent creatures. Distantly related to domesticated dogs along the evolutionary line, they have shown themselves in the wild to be skilled hunters with a complex social structure in their packs.

Yet for years the wolf has been feared by man, just like other predators such as the cougar, tiger, and lion have also been feared. The general perception of the wolf in the eyes of the modern human is one of a bloodthirsty predator who would kill a man or his livestock without hesitation.

The truth, however, is far different.

The wolves will…”travel together ten or twenty miles a day, through the country where they live, eating and sleeping, birthing, playing with sticks, chasing ravens, growing old, barking at bears, scent marking trails, killing moose and staring at the way water in a creek breaks around their legs and flows on”

–Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men

But as history has shown many, many times over, a person’s preconceived notions are rarely swayed by reality. It is in that light that the wolf has been knocked to near extinction. Until reintroduction efforts over two decades ago, the gray wolf was believed to be extinct in the continental United States with the exception of wolves that lived in captivity in America’s zoos and wildlife attractions.

It is because of humans that the wolf was slaughtered in huge numbers. Entire packs were wiped out with both adults and pups killed without any second thought as to the consequences. Today we have deer and game populations that are exploding, resulting in apparently increasing encounters of game animals with urban populations, also increasing the numbers of accidents caused by these animals, both by automobile impacts and automobiles swerving to avoid impacts.

And the solution in many peoples eyes to counter these exploding game populations is by opening up even more the hunting seasons. Instead what we should be doing is embracing the wolf, Nature’s solution to this problem.

“You can’t love nature with a gun”

— Paul Watson

But before that can happen, we need to change our perceptions of the wolf.

And when we have state officials saying they’ll be the first in line to obtain a permit to hunt the wolf, how will that perception change? People refuse to educate themselves about the wolf. I will admit that when I was a child, I had similar notions about the wolf. I didn’t see them for the majestic creatures they were until I opened my eyes and my mind and read about them. I was fascinated.

The wolves need our protection, and they need our protection from idiot politicians harboring the outdated, prejudiced thoughts about the wolf. If you are a farmer, you don’t need to go to great lengths to protect your livestock, nor do you need to shoot every wolf you see. There are options and alternatives to using a rifle to solve any issues, but few will look beyond that.

And the wolf will only suffer again because of that.

In the short time the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species protection, 260 individuals were killed of a census that is believed to have topped 1,700. That’s 15% of a decades-long effort destroyed in a year. And politicians are saying this shows that the States can exercise restraint? Idaho wanted a “controlled” hunt that would have reduced populations down to only a few hundred individuals.

Government agents kill wolves suspected to have attacked livestock, typically from aircraft. To date since state governments and the Federal government started doing this, over 1,300 wolves have been slaughtered. Will shooting wolves stop them from attacking livestock? No it will not. Only a madman would think so. Only better protections of livestock will keep the wolves away — again there are alternatives to rifles and shotguns.

And the utter extinction of the wolf is not an option.

We need to properly educate the populace about the wolf, its place in the food chain and our ecosystem. We need to educate people about the conservation and reintroduction efforts, and why they are important. And more importantly, we need to stop slaughtering animal populations in the name of sport or money. That is how we brought wild bison populations from hundreds of millions down to thousands (some estimates say the populations bottomed out at only a few hundred before conservation efforts were implemented). It is also one reason the gray wolf was almost wiped out, and several other species were driven near or over the line of extinction as a result, such as the Great Auk and the various species of whales, tigers and other wild cats.

Thankfully much of our perception of the wolf has changed, but, as several Republican Senators have recently shown, there is still much to be desired.

Books, films, and other resources:

In the news:

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The politics of prayer, addressing political platforms

The Republican Platform mentions prayer twice. The first mention is on page 44-45:

We will energetically assert the right of students to engage in voluntary prayer in schools and to have equal access to school facilities for religious purposes.

I should note that the Democratic Platform is silent with regard to prayer. A search for the word "prayer" comes up empty, while a search for the word "pray" brings up a quote regarding healthcare.

Contrary to popular conservative belief, reflected in the above quote, no one asserts that students do not have the right to engage in voluntary religious activities in schools. The only dispute is the appropriate time on school grounds.

I’ve already had a lengthy discussion about religion and prayer on school grounds in the article called "God is banished from the classroom?", so I won’t go into it any further here.

The second mention of prayer is on page 52-53:

We support the right of students to engage in student-initiated, student-led prayer in public schools, athletic events, and graduation ceremonies, when done in conformity with constitutional standards.

Here is where things start getting clouded and additional discussion is needed to clarify this. Again, no one disputes the right of students to pray, so we don’t need to go into that. However with this statement by the Republican party, now we have times and places to discuss, and it’s clear they are expressing disdain with United States Supreme Court decisions, where these times and places have already been discussed.

Here are the applicable decisions to the individual events listed:

  • Athletic events: Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe, 530 US 290 (2000)
  • Graduation ceremonies: Lee v. Weisman, 505 US 577 (1992)
  • Prayer in public schools: Engel v. Vitale, 370 US 421 (1962), Abington Township School District v. Schempp, 374 US 203 (1963)
  • Student-led prayer in pubic schools: Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 US 28 (1985)

For the purposes of disclosure, here are the religious affiliations of those who brought the original lawsuits that made their way to the Supreme Court.

  • Santa Fe v. Jane Doe: Jane Doe was a representative moniker for "Mormon and Catholic students or alumni and their mothers"1
  • Lee v. Weisman: Deborah Weisman and her father Daniel, who brought the case, is Jewish2
  • Engel v. Vitale: The original lawsuit was brought by five citizens of the district in question: Steven I. Engel, Daniel Lichtenstein, Monroe Lerner, Lenore Lyons and Lawrence Roth.3 The religious affiliation of each petitioner is unknown.
  • Abington Township v. Schempp: Edward Schempp was a Unitarian Universalist.4 Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her son, Jon Garth Murray, were atheists.5
  • Wallace v. Jaffree: According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Ishmael Jaffree is agnostic.6

All of these cases brought before the Court school-led or school-sanctioned prayer activities involving students. None of these cases involved students wishing to pray on their own time. These cases involved the schools or legislatures establishing time during the school day or during school activities or functions specifically for prayer.

If students want to pray on school grounds, they are welcome to do so, on their own time, and of their own free will. During school functions or normal class time, where the students are part of a captive audience, the waters become quite a bit more murky. Again I’ve already discussed this at length, so I won’t go into it again here.

But the question that needs to be asked is this: in regard to the words "when done in conformity with constitutional standards", from the second quote from the Republican Platform, do they mean constitutional standards stemming from long precedent out of the Supreme Court and Circuit Courts of the United States, or their own interpretation of constitutional standards? And if the latter, what is their interpretation?

  1. According to text of decision for Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe, 530 US 290 (2000) []
  2. Hall, Kermit L. "Lee v. Weisman." The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. 2005. []
  3. Engel v. Vitale, 191 N.Y.S.2d 453 (1959) (Text of Decision) []
  4. Abington School District v. Schempp. (2010, September 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. []
  5. Madalyn Murray O’Hair. (2010, September 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. []
  6. Freedom From Religion Foundation. "Freethought of the Day, March 28". []
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Teresa Lewis

In case you haven’t been reading the news, Teresa Wilson Bean Lewis, age 41, was executed under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia on September 23, 2010, for masterminding the deaths of her husband and stepson.

Leading to the execution, there have been a ton of questions raised stemming from various misconceptions about capital punishment and the crime for which Ms Lewis was executed, starting with this one:

Why Teresa was on death row to begin with? She didn’t pull any trigger, so why is she there?

The various reports of the crime say that Teresa was the mastermind behind the double murder of her husband and stepson, though the murders themselves were carried out by two other gunmen. Under the laws of virtually every jurisdiction under the United States, including the Federal jurisdiction, conspiring to commit a crime that is actually carried out is the same as if you were a direct accomplice. The fact that she conspired in the murders is no different than if she had pulled the trigger herself. The Code of Virginia spells this out1, but I’ll sum up the legalese here as it applies to Teresa Lewis.

In the case of a felony, every accessory before the fact may be tried as if they directly committed the crime. In the cases where the person is an accessory to a capital murder, that person shall be charged with first-degree murder, a Class 2 felony, except in cases where the conspiracy is a murder for hire, such as the case of Teresa Lewis, in which case they shall be tried as if they committed the murder themselves. Capital murder, under Virginia law, is a Class 1 felony, punishable by death.2

That is why she was on death row.

Plus she pled guilty to all charges, including the capital murder charge. Everyone along the entire appeal chain, starting with the Supreme Court of Virginia up to and including the Governor and all Federal courts, upheld the sentence of death.

But she’s a woman!

Equal protection of the law means equal application of the law. Equal application also means equal eligibility for all punishments, including the death penalty.

The gunmen got life, so she should’ve gotten life.

First, Teresa Lewis was deemed to be the mastermind in the plot, not only by the judge at her trial, but also by Governor Robert McDonnell when he reviewed her application for clemency. If you are the mastermind in a plot to kill multiple people, the death penalty is not only warranted, but expected.

Rodney Lamont Fuller struck a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation, saving himself from death row. Matthew Shallenberger, the other gunman, was sentenced to life out of "fairness". Their sentences have no bearing on whether Lewis is to be on death row, and either gunman could have been sentenced to death while the other was sentenced to life.

She’s mentally challenged, and executing her would violate the mandate of the United States Supreme Court.

The opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), borrowed on the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of mental retardation as being an IQ of 70 or below, basically issuing a blanket restriction on sentences of death of individuals that meet such a definition. Teresa Lewis did not meet the definition. The lowest her IQ has tested, according to published reports, is 72.

Saying she is mentally retarded because her IQ tested at 72, wherein the accepted definition sets the maximum IQ for mental retardation at 70, allows for a slippery slope. What if an offender takes 15 lives but tests to an IQ of 73? The Supreme Court set a limit, and that limit should be honored.

One of the gunmen confessed to being the mastermind.

In a letter addressed to a girlfriend in 2003, Matthew Shallenberger allegedly confessed to being the mastermind, saying he needed the money and found Lewis to be easily manipulated. Shallenberger committed suicide in prison in 2006, and prosecutors dismissed the letter as being manufactured.

Prior to sentencing, evidence establishing Lewis as the mastermind was submitted to the Court. This is what the judge used in establishing the sentence.

Plus affidavits and letters don’t do much to override a prior finding. The evidence submitted showed Lewis to be the mastermind. The Supreme Court of Virginia stated such in their review of the case and punishment:

[Lewis] was the mastermind of these gruesome crimes, which would not have occurred but for her actions.

* * * * *

The facts established by the Court show that Teresa Lewis was the mastermind in this case. That fact appears to not have been openly and properly challenged in a Court of law, probably because the only evidence that contradicts the assertion arose after the trial and after Lewis had been sentenced to death, and is entirely verbal or hearsay. As such, as often happens in a Court of Law, both to the detriment and advantage of defendants, only those facts properly presented to the Court are evaluated to determine the proper sentencing.

Lewis’s death penalty was automatically evaluated by the Supreme Court of Virginia. They affirmed and accepted the facts determined to exist at the Circuit Court. Those facts, the Supreme Court of Virginia would determine, warrant a sentence of death in this case, and such a sentence is not excessive given the facts.

The Governor of Virginia ruled the same, stating in a public statement:3

I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court.

This murder was committed for life insurance money, of which Lewis was the sole beneficiary. This means it all came down to her, and she had the power to stop the crime from occurring. She instead chose to facilitate it.

Accordingly, in line with the opinions of the Governor of Virginia and the various courts of appeals that have heard arguments related to this case, I join their opinions that the penalty of death in this case was properly applied.

  1. Code of Virginia 18.2-18 []
  2. Code of Virginia 18.2-10(a) []
  3. http://www.thegovmonitor.com/world_news/united_states/governor-mcdonnell-denies-teresa-lewis-clemecy-petition-38833.html []
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Blaming the unemployed

I once said that there is no dignity in taking help from the government. Admitting you need help requires a feeling of dignity at the beginning, just a little boost to keep you on your feet long enough to be able to walk on your own again. But when you are accepting that help for a long period, eventually your dignity starts to fade away and you wonder if you had any at the beginning.

One question that many economists and conservatives keep asking is simply this: are unemployment insurance benefits keeping the unemployed unemployed? To some extent this is true, and that extent I believe to be insignificant. At the same time, asking this question has the effect of blaming those who are unemployed for being unemployed. True some were likely fired from their jobs, but I feel that most who are unemployed became so out of no fault of their own and just want to get their careers back on track as best as possible, and likely as soon as possible.

The movie Dave (Rent it on Netflix) starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver had it right in a scene in which Dave, still acting as the President of the United States, gives a press conference talking about a new focus for the administration when it comes to jobs:

If you’ve ever seen the look on somebody’s face the day they finally get a job, I’ve had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it’s about respect, it’s about looking in the mirror and knowing that you’ve done something valuable with your day.

Looking in the mirror and knowing you’ve done something valuable with your day. That is the dignity.

To those politicians in Washington and the various State capitols who are asking this question, let me ask one in return. Actually let me address it to all elected and appointed officials, at the State and Federal level: have you ever suffered the lack of dignity that comes with being unemployed?

Likely not. You’ve likely never had a worry in your world, never worried about whether you’re going to have to choose between paying the phone bill so you can still place and receive phone calls while searching for a job and buying groceries so you can eat. Or having to spend money you know you can’t afford to spend in a bid to impress another company in the hopes they’ll hire you, only to see that opportunity sink away like the others that you have come across and pursued.

Further I ask that those of you who go to these rallies and town halls with politicians, the next time one of these politicians or political candidates starts talking about unemployment, ask them if they’ve ever been unemployed, and if they answer yes, ask them how long their longest unemployment stint was, and ask them to describe it in detail. Those of us who have previously been unemployed would be able to tell just by their description whether they’re full of it.

On March 24, 2008, I was laid off from my position at the MediNotes Corporation1 in West Des Moines, Iowa, two months and a week shy of three years of service. I was given two weeks severance and my accrued vacation benefits were cashed out, along with being paid for the extent of the pay period I had worked.

I wasted no time in trying to find a job. I actually had a feeling the layoff was coming given my work had been scaled back since the start of that year, and I had actually started looking for another position within a couple weeks before the layoff. When I was laid off, I already had an idea of what was out there in the Des Moines area, and I wasted no time pursuing it.

However my efforts would be fruitless. For ten months, my efforts would be fruitless. Despite my efforts, despite searching job boards, placing phone calls, writing e-mails, sending letters, it would be for not. During that time I was collecting the maximum allowable under Iowa’s unemployment. But with a car loan, car insurance, eventually the registration fee on that car, rent, groceries… even that plus my fiancée’s wages from her job, we were barely getting by. Actually we weren’t getting by. There were several times we almost lost the apartment we were renting, we were behind on our utilities, we fell behind on the car, we fell behind on practically everything.

On January 22, 2009, I was offered the job I currently have, and I started that job on February 9 of that year. We’re still recovering from that 10 months of unemployment.

Needless to say we were close to losing everything in 2008. To the politicians in Washington and the various State capitols, I ask this: when was the last time you almost lost everything you had?

I once read that currently for every job there are at least 4 people applying. And there are jobs that are continuing to go unfilled because qualified talent is hard to find. We have a very paradoxical economy right now.

But the one thing that must be kept in mind is that a person who goes from a mid to upper 5-figure salary to a job that pays $12 or less an hour is not doing himself any favors with his career. True a person should take what they can get to pay the bills, but at the same time, those of us who have been on the unemployment line know what we must take in order to keep from screwing ourselves over in the future.

That is one reason why I was unemployed for so long. I easily could’ve taken on something less. I was actually willing to take a pay cut to find something local.

There have been a lot of articles written evaluating in one extent or another why people are unemployed long-term, and a lot of it is rather narrow-focused, or rather, I should say, narrow-minded and really makes me wonder how expert the "experts" really are when it comes to being unemployed.

People who are unemployed are looking for work that will place them in a financial position to which they have become accustomed, or at least not be too great a derelict of that position where possible. Taking a job with a significant pay cut has multiple effects on long-term career growth. Most employers, when discussing salary, tend to ask of your last position, not last few, and certainly not your highest-paying one. Taking a significant pay cut will, for lack of better words, set a person back salary-wise, meaning that person will have to work even harder than previously just to get back up to where they were within an acceptable time frame.

This will place a limit on the job search itself. Most people when searching for a job are thinking only short-term: finding a job and considering a salary that will be only temporary. Even if they stay with the same employer, they will not make the same amount of money and will, presumably, receive raises over time. But at the same time they would rather not find a job with a salary that’ll take them two years (or more) just to get back to where they were before being laid off.

It’s easy to say that one needs to take whatever they can find to pay their bills, but that is not always realistic. Going from a job making $55 thousand a year to a job making less than $15/hour "to pay the bills" will have potential future employers asking a lot of questions when they go back to trying to pursue their careers, yet this isn’t something you hear in unemployment analyses. Plus if you were to be let go of that $15/hour job, unemployment benefits will also be slashed because unemployment benefits are also calculated based only on the last job.

There are a lot of analyses being made and a lot of articles being written about unemployment by people who, at least to me, provide the impression of having never been unemployed. They’ve only moved from one job to another, constantly moving up in salary and amenities without putting serious thought to those who have been out of work, long term or not, and the plight we face or have faced with regard to not only the short term, meaning finding work, but also the long term and the impact the next job will have on our careers and long-term growth potential.

When I was unemployed I easily could’ve taken any number of the other jobs that were advertised around town — assuming they wouldn’t consider me over-qualified. But let’s be realistic: 1. taking such a job would’ve netted me less than what I was receiving on unemployment, and 2. I would’ve had a hard time explaining to my current employer why I took that job. If I was fresh out of college, that would’ve been one thing, and I did work a temp job at a construction site in 2005. However, when you’re a few years into a career, having suffered your first layoff, it’s a little more tricky.

Back in January, I posted an article called "Don’t be narrow focused on health care reform" in which I said that the health care reform that was passed earlier this year, despite being over two thousand pages long, was very superficial with regard to health care, with those authoring the bill not really thinking through the ramifications of what they are doing.

I feel the same with unemployment, and really many other points of view as well. Sometimes you actually have to nearly lose everything to find the right perspective on something. So to the politicians who are making the decisions that affect over 350 million people, though I think for many or, likely, most, we already know the answer, was there ever a time when you were close to losing everything?

It’s easy to blame the unemployed, but why blame someone who was unlucky enough to land on a list of people to be cut from a company out of no fault of their own, and is only trying to find something that won’t place them too far off their previous career track?

I really think it’s about time everyone starts being realistic. At the same time, a dose of humility can’t hurt either.

  1. MediNotes was acquired by the Eclipsys Corporation of Atlanta, Georgia, in October 2008, and Eclipsys has since completed an acquisition with Unisys. []
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Advertising atheism

I have said this before: I am an atheist. I am an agnostic atheist.

Approximately 5% of Americans are atheist or agnostic atheist. I am part of that minority. And our numbers are growing every day.

Most atheists are good, decent, honest people. We obey the law, which includes paying our taxes, and we are moral people. We are moral without a god of any kind. Yes that is possible.

Many atheists come to atheism while they are teenagers. Many seem to think that atheism is just a rebellion period and that atheism is a sign of immaturity — “when they really grow up, they’ll see the light and come back to God and Jesus”. I hate to say this, but this is really the kindest thing that is also negative that I’ve seen said or written about atheists. Typically if a person will shed their faith and arrive at atheism, this happens before the age of 30, and typically occurs in high school or college.

And for many for whom atheism becomes their reality, it also becomes a dark secret that must be hidden from anyone and everyone they know. If their secret gets out or they dare confess to their parents…

As such they tend to turn to the Internet for support because they don’t know who in their local area they can contact. And on the Internet there is a wealth of information and support, forums and support groups that can be joined, and on the Internet you may find advertised an atheist organization in your area. I do not belong to any in Kansas City, nor do I feel I will ever join one.

But what if atheists try to advertise their organizations openly, say on a road or highway billboard like this one in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:

image

OKCCoR is the atheism group Oklahoma City Coalition of Reason. They leased the billboard with the above image in Oklahoma City. Similar billboards have been placed in other major metropolitan areas, such as Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Most of the billboards are being leased by member organizations of the United Coalition of Reason.

In Cincinnati, the billboard was taken down days after it was removed due to “multiple, significant threats” received by the landowner where the billboard was displayed and moved to a new location.1 In response to this, Shawn Jeffers, the co-coordinator of the organization stated:

Everything that has happened shows just how vital our message is. It proves our point, that bigotry against people who don’t believe in a god is still very real in America. Only when we atheists, agnostics and humanists come together and go public about our views will people have a chance to learn that we too are part of the community and deserve respect.

In Moscow, Idaho, the American Humanist Organization erected a billboard that says “Millions are good without God”. The billboard was vandalized not once, but twice, first in October 2009, then again in November.2 The first vandalism display removed the word “without”, and the second display showed “out” in “without” painted over. After the first vandalism, Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association responded:3

I knew there would be some disagreement with the billboard’s slogan, but I do wish that those who objected would have opened a dialogue with us rather than trying to stifle our message and damaging property.

After the second vandalism, David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association responded:

The irony here is worth noting. Some individuals are committing criminal acts while apparently claiming that their religious view of the world leads to good behavior. It’s not a very convincing argument on their part.

This is not just vandalism, it is religiously motivated vandalism which attempts to silence a minority viewpoint. Everyone, not just humanists, should be concerned about such acts.

The North Carolina Secular Association erected a billboard along Billy Graham Parkway in Charlotte, North Carolina. It said simply “One Nation, Indivisible”, borrowing on the original words of the Pledge of Allegiance. That billboard was vandalized to add the words “Under God”.4 In response to the vandalism, Chrissy Satterfield of WorldNetDaily said, “Never would I encourage vandalism, but in this case I think I’ll let it slide.”5 She added, “Atheists have been vandalizing my beliefs for years, so it’s about time the shoe was on the other foot.”

Other atheist billboards:

  • St. Augustine, Florida: vandalized.6
  • Sacramento, California: vandalized.7
  • Watertown, Wisconsin: vandalized.8
  • Rancho Cucamonga, California: taken down following string of at least 90 complaints to the city.9
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida: demands lodged for it to be removed because it’s “offensive”.10
  • Grand Junction, Colorado: vandalized to change text from “Keep religion out of government” to “Keep fags out of government”.11
  • Boston subway: vandalized.12

Do you see the pattern? Billboards erected by atheist and secular organizations are defaced, complaints are lodged to have them taken down, or threats are made so they get taken down.

Let me ask this question that has been asked by others in various forums: what if atheists defaced a Christian billboard? Imagine the outcry that would result.

Yet when Christians deface an atheist billboard, it’s supported and applauded nationwide. In other words, the people who allege themselves to be morally superior because they have God are breaking local laws and ordinances by defacing property, an act that is inherently immoral. I share David Niose’s observation, the irony is certainly worth noting.

This is especially disturbing given the anti-atheism billboards that have been going up around the country. For example, the Reverend E. F. Briggs of Monongah, WV, erected this billboard:

And then there’s this one by an organization called In God We Trust:

Read around my blog and you’ll see just how much I “hate” America. Answer: not at all. And it seems that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron have entered the billboard campaign arena as well with this beauty:

To clarify this billboard, setting aside for a moment that creationists believe that everything came from nothing, albeit with God’s assistance, atheists don’t believe “nothing made everything”. Instead we believe that the current state of the universe is the result of numerous natural processes. If you go to the website advertised, you’ll see banners similar to this billboard.

Or how about this lovely one by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis:

To answer your question, yes that is a picture of the business end of a handgun on a billboard by a Christian organization regarding atheism, basically saying that because we are atheists, we are inherently immoral and will kill at a moment’s notice, probably without provocation. This message can be clearly seen in this advertising spot created by the same organization:

So now all atheists are potential serial killers? Bullshit. I’m not even going to bother quoting crime statistics, but let’s just say the crime rate among atheists is lower than that among theists. Don’t believe me? Google it.

The Dangerous Talk blog has pictures of both atheist and Christian billboards, so you can make the comparison for yourself as to which group is more hostile and offensive.13

* * * * *

References

  1. Cincinnati Coalition of Reason. (2009, November 12). “Cincinnati’s Godless Billboard Taken Down“. []
  2. KHQ. (2009, November 4). “Atheist billboard vandalized a second time“. []
  3. KHQ. (2009, October 21). “North Idaho atheist billboard vandalized“. []
  4. Funk, Tim. (2010, June 29.) “Atheist group’s billboard vandalized“. Charlotte Observer. []
  5. Satterfield, Chrissy. (2010, July 7). “My kind of vandals“. WorldNetDaily. []
  6. First Coast News. (2010, April 14). “‘Godless’ billboard damaged“. The St. Augustine Record. []
  7. Phelps, Tucker. (2010, February 16). “Atheist billboards put up in Sacramento, quickly defaced“. Oakland Skepticism Examiner. []
  8. Hesselberg, George. (2010, August 30). “Vandals target anti-religion billboard near Watertown“. Wisconsin State Journal. []
  9. Olson, David. (2008, November 28). “Billboard promoting atheism will be removed“. The Press-Enterprise. []
  10. Residents want sign promoting atheism removed“. July 2, 2009. WSVN-TV. []
  11. Hoaks, Trina. (2009, October 28). “Another atheist billboard vandalized – FFRF calls it a hate crime“. Atheism Examiner. []
  12. Florien, Daniel. (2009, November 23). “40 Million Americans… Going to Hell?” in the blog Unreasonable Faith. []
  13. Billboard Wars” in the Dangerous Talk blog. []
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